Marketing to Women – Statistics

By February 26, 2008General, Thought Leadership

Marketing to Women


In order to make any reasonable commentary on marketing to women in the early part of the 21st century it is first essential that the position of women as consumers is stated as definitely as possible.

To start with the most startling of stats, according to a report from 2000, “women purchase or influence the purchase of 80% of all consumer goods and influence 80% of all healthcare decisions.”

This figure is not simply limited to the market sectors traditionally perceived as “female” either. In 2003 the Consumer Electronics Association (of the USA it should be noted) reported that, “they [women] are involved in 89% of all consumer electronics purchasing decisions and accounted for more than $55 billion in revenue in 2003”. As an aside, despite this staggering statistic, over 75% of women surveyed complained about being “ignored, patronised, or offended by salespeople when shopping for electronics.”

Similarly, since 2003 women have been in the majority of shoppers online and women over 55 have increased their spending online by 129% in the last few years.

In the DIY market The Wall Street Journal reports that women buy 61% of major home fix-up products accounting for more than 80% or $70 billion worth of home improvement products. And, whilst traditionally, wives have been the buying force in home sales; today’s single women are buying homes at twice the rate of single men.

As if technology and DIY were not enough, the last traditional male dominated market – sport – also provides some revelatory figures. Once again US consumer figures are being used, but given its position as the world’s largest marketplace, this isn’t inappropriate for our purposes. The NFL (National Football League) says that more than 80% of their products are sold to women and that a full 40% of their fanbase are female. Furthermore, Susan Rothman, vice-president of consumer products for the NFL, has stated that the organisation’s revenue from selling women’s merchandise tripled between 2003 and 2004 and doubled between 2004 and 2005.

These figures are mirrored in other American sports – NASCAR statistics are similar with women making up an estimated 40% of NASCAR’s 75,000,000 strong fanbase (and, predictably, spending millions over the course of a season). Likewise 25% (6.9 million) of American golfers are women according to the National Golf Foundation.

Reports by Oppenheimer Funds and BusinessWeek Online explain these figures to some extent. Oppenheimer Funds state that, “In dual income families, 30% of working women out-earn their husbands” whilst BusinessWeek report that “in three decades men’s median income has barely budged, while women’s has soared 63%. The number of women earning $100,000 or more has tripled in the last 10 years, and 43% of people with assets in excess of half a million dollars are women.”

Any impression that women are unable and unwilling to compete with men in every sector and, indeed, that they are not more influential in almost every consumer market must be dispelled.


It has long been held true that men and women differ in their thought processes – but in what ways and to what ends?

Recent studies of the brain’s emotional centre, the amygdala, have shown that it is wired to different parts of the brain in men and women. It is accepted that oestrogen and testosterone permanently affect behaviour, but this new finding has caused a radical reassessment of traditional perceptions of difference between the sexes. As Larry Cahill, a neurobiologist at the University of California at Irvine says;

“The bias of mainstream neuroscience for the last 25 years has been, ‘OK, sure, there’s some sex differences way down deep in the brain in this little structure called the hypothalamus, but otherwise the brains of men and women were pretty much the same.’ That was wrong, wrong as can be. Sex matters a lot in how the brain works.”

Whilst this will not necessarily come as shocking news to marketers, it is important to note as it indicates that the traditional assessment of the differences between female and male thought processes as being purely “emotional” falls rather short of the mark and is, in some ways, disingenuous.

Indeed, there are negative connotations with the word when applied to women, suggesting as it does unpredictability, a lack of reasoning or a favouring of intuitive decisions over logic and the like. This in turn leads to a belief that women, by their nature, are whimsical and difficult to market to given their apparent lack of predictable responses.

This could not be further from the truth; women are as predictable as men in their reactions as the study of the amygdala has shown. It is simply that those responses are different to those of men.

According to Marti Barletta CEO of the TrendSight Group and author of Primetime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds and Business of Boomer Big Spenders these differences manifest themselves in the following ways;

Firstly, men pay less attention to people than to the goods or services desired – women, by contrast, are “people powered” preferring to connect with others.

Secondly, men operate best solo while women prefer groups. “For men individuality, freedom, autonomy, and independence are valued. Women see themselves as part of an ensemble group. They think ‘we’ not ‘me’.”

The third difference can be characterised by the phrase “men do unto themselves, women do unto others”. Women see themselves as parts of a community first and then individuals.

Finally, men are driven by envy whilst women are driven by empathy. Women are interested in belonging and being understood more than they are in winning. Men want to be admired but women want to be appreciated.

To recap then – men and women are intrinsically different in their reactions to stimuli. However, these differences are not governed by hormones but by the hardwiring of the brain. Consequently there is absolutely nothing to suggest that women are any more irrational or unpredictable than man. They are simply different.

Methods and Pitfalls

The single most important fact that marketers must realise is that women make the overwhelming majority of purchases in almost every consumer industry sector.

This alone should provide a great pointer for marketers, they are not a niche market or secondary target in a campaign, they should be the primary focus, or at the very least an equal focus, in any campaign.

Next on the list of priorities should be communication. Women value connections highly and desire an understanding and appreciation of their needs. Consequently the idea of the “hard sell” should be disposed of. Research has shown that women do not respond at all well as a group to the bullish, testosterone fuelled campaigns typical to the car and technology industries (as an example), rather a slower, more measured and persuasive approach has a much greater effect. Campaigns should be aimed at building a relationship with the consumer. Achieving this is likely to lead not only to brand loyalty, but return business and the female consumer evangelising the approach and service to her friends.

This product evangelisation can be a vital part in any efforts marketing to women. Women, more than men, like to talk to each other. Should a campaign hit the right note with female consumers they will spread the word to their friends and family. Unlike men, women tend to discuss products and services they are interested in so connectors willing to evangelise products within a peer group are highly valuable.

Women are also, research suggests, price conscious in a way that men aren’t (and of course these are generalisations). They are highly value orientated and will pay to ge
t exactly what they want. One thing they are certainly not is stupid consumers – in general being very savvy, possessing a keen understanding of the necessity of businesses turning profits but also readily recognising unreasonable prices and misleading information.

Men tend to make their purchasing decisions based on price and availability and women, whilst this plays a significant part, also seem to value exhaustive information about the product or service more than men. Whether this is because men carry out their own research prior to buying or women like the chance to interact extensively before purchases (an indicator again of the importance of connections to their buying habits) is unclear.

Women also look for products designed with them in mind – this may seem obvious but all too often brand approach to women is to turn their already existing men’s campaign or line into something smaller and pinker, metaphorically speaking. If your product or service is tailored specifically to women and isn’t merely an altered version of your male approach it stands a better chance of success.

In short women in the marketplace need to feel they’re being talked to not talked at. They appreciate value for money and the advice of their friends. In many ways, selling to women is more about having a conversation and finding a connection leading to a sale than it is about telling them how much they need the product or service advertised.

These then are the major points to pick up on in marketing to women. But what should be avoided when embarking on a campaign directed at them?

Firstly, women are the primary consumers in the marketplace. Any perception of them as lesser or niche market in economic terms will lead to campaign failure. Linked to this is the idea that female consumer marketing requires less funding than that of its male counterpart. Women have not been in a consumer minority for years, seeing campaigns directed at them as the budget option will, again, lead to failure.

Next in line is dividing your market along purely gender lines. Just because women are women does not mean that they all think the same or respond to the same stimulus. A woman of 50 has entirely different priorities and expectations than one of 21. Any campaign should, primarily, study consumer behaviour and make no presuppositions based on gender.

Another mistake in marketing to women is neglect of the internet. Research in the USA has shown that the majority of adults online are female. They also purchase the majority of goods sold online. Ally this to the fact that email allows for women to connect and evangelise and it becomes apparent that the internet is a must use resource in any product campaign.

Another misconception is that women value the chance to browse and be entertained over anything else when purchasing or being exposed to a campaign. Frankly this is ill-informed nonsense. A huge factor in female purchasing, as stated earlier, is informed decision. Women browse because they seek to be as well informed as possible, not for the sake of it.

Finally, there is a school of thought that states that if marketing is focused on women it will alienate men. The contrary is true – men are, in essence, easily pleased as buyers with their main interests being price and availability. Women, on the other hand, are considerably more demanding in terms of information required to purchase. They are also, unlike men, totally unafraid of stopping and asking for help in relation to purchasing goods and services, it does not appear to have the same detrimental effect on the ego as it does with men. Consequently any campaign directly aimed at women will require a higher level of product/service information and more brand interaction with the customer than any comparable campaign directed solely at men. Giving men more than they would naturally expect is hardly likely to cause alienation in the market, indeed, focusing on women delivers the best to everyone.

Women Over 50

Women over 50 are only recently becoming viewed as a coveted section of the market. This in itself is peculiar given that, as a group, they are the “healthiest, wealthiest, most influential generation of women in history”.

This market accounts for some 19% of the adult population and 15% of the total population. They are becoming an ever-larger share of the surviving baby boom generation – as women tend to live longer than men (life expectancy being 7 years more in the western world).

Using figures from the USA (a much larger market snapshot than anything the UK can produce) we can see that, according to New York Times data and projections, in 2000, 37% of the adult US population was 50 or over with the figure set to rise to 43% by 2010. Moreover, in 2001 the 50+ age group held $29.1 trillion in net worth, or a full 69% of the US total (figures from AARP State of 50+ in America Report, 2004).

Massive demographic shifts are occurring and those who would ignore them and continue to focus on the traditional young, male market will see sales and profits decrease as a result given that adults over the age of 50 buy $2 trillion worth of goods and services per year and spend up to 2.5 times as younger adults per capita (data taken from SoldOnSeniors, Inc. and Age Power).

Women over 50 are different from any other comparable generation in history – they have more often been high wage earners (or, indeed, wage earners at all) and, if research figures are to be believed, have a more than equal share in consumer decision making in relation to the household. In short, they tend to have the kind of consumer savvy that has in previous decades been held solely by older men.

The Baby Boom generation is now entering a phase of life where they are free of former responsibilities and are looking toward retirement. This presents a unique set of possibilities for marketing.

Women over 50, according to market research, are looking forward, not backward. “They don’t think in terms of loss but in terms of experience gained” says Marti Barletta founder and CEO of The TrendSight Group. They are also financially powerful and, according to Woman-Trends’ Diane Holmam, if they are free of cancer or heart disease at 50, they can expect to reach their 90s.

With this understanding of their circumstances it is possible to infer a great deal about their attitudes to marketing.

Highest on the list of priorities is sticking to reality when marketing to them – they are not going to be fooled or impressed by the suggestion that product acquisition will result in heightened sex appeal, increased wealth or any other of the mainstays of marketing that tend to seduce the young.

Secondly it is important to shy away from any portrayal of women of 50+ as senior citizens. Likewise, their portrayal as staid, vulnerable and lonely (as so often happens with insurance and healthcare advertising) is certain to be a deal-breaker where the over 50 market is concerned. As their health statistics show – women over 50 are in better health and more active than ever before. Consequently showing them as independent, vital people will strike a chord. It is, however, important to remember that women on the whole outlive men and that statistics show they are less likely than men to remarry when widowed. As such, friends can play an ever-increasing role for women in their later years so advertising for this market can benefit from depictions of a vibrant peer group.

Finally, it has been said that storytelling is “women’s social currency” and that they value connections with others very highly. Women of 50 and over display this tendency even more than younger women – so talk to them from a female perspective, attempt to connect rather than attempt to sell. This is reinforced by the fact that brand loyalty does not increase with age, if anything it decreases – these are women who have seen and heard it all. They have also had to adapt to major societal changes during their lifetimes. They
will have no problems in switching one brand for another.

With the amount of wealth and experience that women over 50 wield and their seeming willingness to purchase the best available products regardless of branding, they are a market sector that cannot be ignored without serious ramifications

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